UPDATED: Ethiopia mosque grenade attack leaves at least 17 injured; deadly protests over Addis Ababa's expansion

Opposition claim 10 students killed. Social media and the limited local reports show images of bloodied protesters in towns.

AT least 17 people were injured when a grenade was thrown into the main mosque in the Ethiopia capital Addis Ababa after Friday prayers, a government spokesman said Saturday.

The Anwar Mosque, located in the busy central Merkato district, is one of the main places of worship for Muslims in the capital. 

“So far we have no idea who is responsible for this incident,” communication minister Getachew Reda told AFP.  “17 people were injured including some seriously injured, but no fatalities,” he added. 

Violent attacks are very rare in Ethiopia with the government and security forces maintaining a tight grip, however tensions between the Christian majority and Muslim minority do exist and armed rebel groups continue to operate in remote parts of the vast country.

In addition, the attack came as Ethiopia’s capital, which has been generally secure in recent years, also saw the Ethiopian opposition claiming that about 10 university students have been killed in the past three weeks by Ethiopian police. 

The 10 Oromo students had joined hundreds in demonstrations against plans to integrate the capital, Addis Ababa, with surrounding towns in Oromia region. The Oromo farmers and residents living near the capital could be evicted from their lands without appropriate – or possibly any – compensation, activists say. 

Bloodied protestors 

Social media and the limited local reports show images of bloodied protesters with reports of injuries, deaths and arrests in a number of towns - the local police have publicly acknowledged that at least three students have died so far.

According to Human Rights Watch, the current protests echo the bloody events of April and May 2014, when federal forces fired into groups of largely peaceful Oromo protesters, killing dozens.

This is not an issue that will go away quickly or silently. Many Oromos have felt marginalised and discriminated against by successive Ethiopian governments and have often felt unable to voice their concerns over government policies.

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Addis has always been a sprawling city, from when it originated in 1886 as a military settlement, part of Emperor Menelik II’s campaign in taking over Oromo territory. Throughout its history it continued to sprawl due to its spontaneous and unplanned nature.

As the city expanded from 1994 – 2007, research showed that many farmers on the peripheries lost their livelihoods and were forced instead to turn to other forms of casual labour within the city. This spurred the development of the Oromia Special zone that was created in 2008 in order to ease the co-operation and development of the surrounding areas of Addis Ababa and to control the urban sprawl of this city on the lands of the Oromia people.

New Addis Ababa plan

However, more recently, there were further calls that the government was perpetuating inequality along ethnic lines when it announced a master plan titled “the Addis Ababa and the Surrounding Roomier Integrated Development Plan”. 

This plan was intended to create special zones surrounding Addis that were divided into industry, service and settlement zones, based on their existing potential, economic base and geography. 

But it has become a contentious issue, met with opposition by Oromo residents who would lose an additional 36 towns and cities to Addis Ababa. According to researchers, the city’s expansion in the past has led to forced evictions and displacement of local Oromo residents and protesters of this new master plan fear that ceding Oromo lands to Addis Ababa would lead to more losses in Oromo identity and culture.

READ: Addis shows Ethiopia’s impressive growth trend, but it’s leaving its weak and poor behind

In Ethiopia the Oromo people -  the country’s largest community with 30 million members, constituting 34.49% of Ethiopia’s population - lay claim to the country of the Oromo, called Biyya-Oromo or Oromia. 

Oromia is described as one of the free nations in the Horn of Africa until its colonisation and occupation by Abyssinia at the end of the nineteenth century. Their self-determination movement is being pushed by the Oromo Liberation Front, or OLF, an organisation established in 1973. 

Their attempts for secession however are being fought by a central government that cannot afford to lose this bread basket. Oromia is the region where coffee first originated, today it accounts for more than 65 % of the country’s total coffee growing land and coffee is the country’s largest export.

-Additional reporting by AFP.

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